After collaborating with Tim Burton on his film “Corpse Bride” in 2005, Laika has used their extraordinary talents and skills to produce the wonderfully eerie “Coraline” in 2009 and the underrated “ParaNorman”, which turned out to be one of the best films of 2012. Now comes their latest efforts “The Boxtrolls”, which showcases amazing characters and stunning use of stop-motion animation in what is surely their most ambitious film yet.
The story starts off with a glimpse of a weird box-like creature abducting a baby and the promise of a fearsome red hatted man named Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) to rid this remote mountain village of all boxtrolls so that no child or persons would ever be taken again. What the townspeople do not know is that these creatures are actually kind, gentle, and creative underground dwellers who have taken in the infant as their own. As the story unfolds, secrets are revealed about the events of the abduction as the trolls try to elude the cruel Mr. Snatcher and his henchmen with the help of the grown boy, who they simply refer to as Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), and his newfound friend Winnie (Elle Fanning).
Directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi carefully try to recreate the effortless charm of “Coraline” and “ParaNorman”, and they succeed in making these characters entertaining and delightful. It is often hard for animated films to create characters that are actually interesting and sympathetic instead of caricatures with generic personality traits that spout smart-aleck one liners aimed to disguise their lack of depth. The characters that inhabit this world are fully-formed beings with motivations and desires, which make the movie so fun to watch. What is so unfortunate about the film is that its story is so predictable and formulaic. This is a story that has been told many times before with films such as “How to Train Your Dragon” and “The Little Vampire”, but its sincerity and charm strives to be meaningful and original which is something that should be appreciated nowadays in film.
There are so many things to like about this movie, from the stunning stop-motion visuals to its cleverly tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, but what makes the film pop is its voice talent. Wright and Fanning are both solid in the lead roles, and Simon Pegg and Jared Harris are both very amusing as a brainwashed inventor and the King of the village, but it is Kingsley who truly outdoes himself as the villainous Snatcher. His vocal performances is so good that it is hard to imagine Kingsley providing the voice, especially in scenes in which Snatcher dresses up as the seductive Madame Fru Fru. Dee Baker and Steve Blum also deserve recognition for their work as the voices of the title characters. Too often do everyday voice actors go unnoticed for their work, and it is because of them and their specific talent that this movie even exists.
“The Boxtrolls” is childish and even flawed at times, but no one could say that it is uninspired or boring. At a time when action films like “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and “The Equalizer” are reigning in audiences, it is nice to see something different, something striving to be unique, try to go head to head with such action stars as Liam Neeson and Denzel Washington.